Mumbai: political history
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
1991-2014: fluctuating fortunes of Cong, NCP
Mumbai has a love-hate relationship with the Congress, one that manifests itself through a rise and fall in Lok Sabha tallies. After clawing back from a new low in the post-Babri period when a communally charged atmosphere eroded traditional vote banks, the grand old party was once again wiped out in the metropolis by the Modi wave.
This swing in its score between 1996 and 2014 (see graphic) could repeat itself, say observers, unless those who run the Congress campaign in the commercial capital manage to connect on issues agitating the masses. To stem the BJP’s march will require candidates with national presence and experience, say oldtimers, as it did following the 1996 debacle when Sunil Dutt, Murli Deora and Gurudas Kamat wrested their seats back despite a saffron consolidation.
In 1996, when Congress lost all six Mumbai seats, it was also the year when Dutt stayed away from the fray due to the arrest of his son, actor Sanjay Dutt, under TADA. Shiv Sena’s Madhukar Sarpotdar, detained by the army for carrying a weapon during the January 1993 riots and later arrested and booked, won the seat. In 1998, the party made a minor comeback winning the Mumbai South and North East seats. Its ally, the Republican Party of India, won the Mumbai North Central seat. Dutt did not contest this time too. But in 1999, he returned to win from North West Mumbai, defeating Sarpotdar by over 80,000 votes.
“Don’t go by the 2014 Lok Sabha results, we shall be back (again),” says Sachin Sawant, spokesperson for the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee. And for a start, the party has experienced former MPs, Milind Deora and Priya Dutt, in the race for Mumbai.
But privately, a section of insiders do not share the enthusiasm. “Show me one leader of national stature in the Congress in Mumbai today. The party organisation at the grassroots level is also dwindling,” said a Congress loyalist, requesting anonymity.
Some insiders admit that the party’s organisational strength has been fraying for a long time, but they link it to changes in the social fabric. “Mumbai collapsed after the 1992-93 riots. Its cosmopolitan character was destroyed, and with it, the Congress too went into decline,” says senior journalist Prakash Joshi. The late Murli Deora was the last among Congress veterans who knew the city enough to move with equal ease among corporate barons and slum dwellers, he said.
Analyst Surendra Jondhale said Congress has treated Mumbai as a region distinct from Maharashtra with its own Pradesh Congress Committee, but the arrangement has not worked internally owing to factionalism. “Neither the central leadership nor the state leadership has encouraged growth of leaders from Mumbai as they were seen as direct threats,” he said.
A party loyalist said the Congress did little to check the Sena during the 80’s when it began to draw away a chunk of the Maharashtrian vote; its leaders instead chose to patronise the Sainiks as a counterweight to Left-backed unions. Soon, the trading and business classes too drifted away to the BJP. “We depended on the North Indian and Muslim vote. In 2014 the BJP took away a major chunk of the North Indian vote… and we are not going to get those votes back anytime soon. We have no Marathi, Gujarati leader of any consequence either,” he said.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman, Observer Research Foundation, said the Congress in Mumbai has failed to challenge the Sena’s parochialism and shows reluctance to engage on urban issues like housing or commuting. “How many times has one seen a Congress leader hold agitations highlighting Mumbai’s needs?” he asked. The split in 1999 when Pawar walked out to form the NCP has “further weakened it,” said Kulkarni. The ORF chairman said the Congress needs a leader in Mumbai who can raise local issues without losing the national vision.